(124-06-13) Penitence
Summary: Guilt is like poison. While the Fossoways consider what to do about the claims ledged against her, Marsei tells the truth about what happened to her former husband.
Date: Not June 15th
Related: Fossoway Folly plot; directly follows In Pursuit of Truth.

The trek back through the hidden corridor was fraught with tension thicker than the stone walls themselves. By contrast, the air felt thin, disappearing faster with every breath; Marsei's especially were quick and fraying. Her near panic became an obstacle even amid the imperative to escape quickly, slowing them down every time it felt as though her beloved tower was about to crush her alive. Once the path became straight, with no potential need for her guidance around the bends, she fought to squeeze past Dhraegon to run the rest of the way. After spilling into her chamber, she does not make it as far as a chair; her arms are thrust over the padded cushion of an elaborate foot-rest, her back bowed away from the hiding spot. Her gown spreads out around her with uncommon inattention to lines and wrinkles. She seems boneless. If Dhraegon speaks, it is unclear whether she hears.

Thistle trots out of the front area, tail high, meowing squeakily and circling her distraught lady with eager rubs. There is a quiet stir of the handle at the door outside the main chamber, but whoever it is vanishes quickly upon hearing life within.

Once they are safely back in her room, Dhraegon says very gently, "My Snowdrop, I fear I must ask you to revisit a painful incident so as to best know what we should do from this point forward. I would not ask if it were not a matter of real danger for you." The Prince kneels before his wife, careful of the kitten an takes her hands, "Shall we send for Camillo to get you something soothing to drink?" His expression is terribly sincere, "It is bad, but all is not lost, though we needs be more subtle than I had hoped, and it is more dangerous."

Marsei may feel the urgency, yet she is not so ready to plan, as they must. She thrusts her head in the opposite direction, pressing her cheek into her shoulder farthest from Dhraegon's sincere expression. "Does it matter anymore what truly happened?" she counters, her soft but pitched high in lamentation, as though she tries to raise her voice but hasn't the strength. "They seek to punish me, and perhaps they are right to."

Camillo appears before he is summoned, ducking into the room without knocking unless it is locked. "I did not find them," he reports immediately.

Dhraegon gently strokes her hair and he instructs Camillo, "The…thing we asked you to do must be called off. There has been a… turn of circumstance. Perhaps some camomille and valerian tisane? We will need to make too plans as fourre to many. Delay the Fossoways' departure in every way you can, and it may be best to undermine the memories of that stableboy in every way you can. Try the gentle ones first. Befriend him. If worse comes to worse, I can have Flox mix you a powder that won't harm him, but will make him… unreliable for a while, but I'd prefer not to go so far against an innocent. I've plans already for how to gently handle Lady Jana and her Young Man." To Lady Marsei he says firmly, "I don't intend to hurt them. We will fight, but with our wits, Love. All is not lost."

Marsei looks to Camillo when he speaks, just a peek, a flash of distraught seawater eyes welling with tears before she manages to focus on Dhraegon. A spike of panic rises in her gaze when he mentions Jana and her young man, only to be tenuously quelled. She tenses and sits up straighter, swiping a forearm beneath her eyes. "Jana is only doing what's right," she insists tremulously.

"Yes, my lord," Camillo says softly. "I'll bring the stableboy drink tonight. I'll return presently with the tisane." And he quickly departs again.

Dhraegon's voice is very tender, "I know she thinks it is and it is making her miserable. This is going to be difficult, but it's not past saving, My Crocus." Once he is assured Camillo is gone, "I suspect you were trying to do what was right too, both for yourself and for the unfortunate man. I must ask… was there an accident? Perhaps with sweetsleep or milk of the poppy, intended to calm, rather than to harm?" The Prince's expression is very sincere, "It is an easy sort of accident to happen, even for a Maester or the like, especially when a quantity of drink has been taken. One might… add a drop in hopes of sleep instead of a person harming himself or others, and one might panic when things went wrong. If such happened, the person who made the mistake would not be to blame."

Marsei's hands drop to her lap, clutching her skirts as though she means to rise; she simply sits there holding the fabric tightly, however, even too distracted to find comfort in the cat who has curled up on the hem of her dress. She meets Dhraegon's eyes with great struggle, her own pained with hurt of her own making. Guilt. So tense she barely moves, she answers with the tiniest shake of her head. A tear falls from one eye, then the other.

Dhraegon takes a handkerchief from his sleeve and gently wipes his wife's cheek, "You couldn't have known. Especially if it was milk of the poppy, and with sweetsleep, one can take the same dose for months or even a year with no ill effect and then one day…. Dearest, you couldn't have known. And it is possible his Maester might have given him something, or he might have taken something he didn't normally without you knowing…. It is a kind way to die. If ever Flox must… I have asked him to slip sweet sleep into my wine. It is much kinder than a slow hard death from drink or a bad fall that doesn't quite kill, both of which happen naturally to such a man. your heart is gentle and you intended only good. Your guilt speaks well of you, but it was an accident, My Carnation."

"No!" Marsei interrupts, so near a shout this time. Her smooth features contort, and she frantically brings a hand up to hide her tormented expression. She presses her other hand against the floor, startling the cat into a leap away. She inelegantly scrambles backward until she comes up against a chair. "Stop! That isn't what happened. It wasn't milk of the poppy. I don't know what it was. It was something foul and awful and made of death. I watched him drink it and I knew. I knew! I watched him fall and suffer until his last breath, and I did nothing," she says, frantic in her insistence, looking pleadingly at Dhraegon, wanting to be heard — and possibly to be condemned. "I did nothing," she repeats, all tremors. "I only stood there."

Camillo returns to the chamber with his head slightly bowed over the tray he bears. "I think perhaps I should make a brief trip home," he says. Home? "I am sure you have much to discuss, and I have matters of my own to settle…"

Dhraegon rises more slowly so as not to startle, "Was it given you, or was it a thing he got for himself? Love, I ask only so I can know how to approach protecting you." He takes a deep breath, "I…" He tries again, "I promised you back in the beginning, that what ever happened with him would not change my opinion of you and how I felt about you. Whatever happened then, I still want to raise children with you and live to see you plump and happy my the fire with streaks of white in your hair. Whatever happened then, he is dead and you are alive, and I would very much like for you to stay that way." Dhraegon gives Camillo a startled look, "I… there is planning to do. With Haemon and Roberd, and I shall need to work out the details…. If you've given the orders to delay, I release you for now, but best you return by night so we might talk further."

Before Marsei manages to respond to Dhraegon, she becomes determined in looking up at Camillo. "You asked me once if I killed my husband," she says, sounding a bit far away from herself. "I should have said yes." She collapses upon herself, burying her head in her knees— but after a few shakes of her shoulders, of fraught, half-contained sobs, she breathes in and attempts to compose herself. It may be a lost cause. Already, her tears have made well-worn, shimmering paths down her cheeks, and the style of her hair is coming loose. "It was his. Jarvas. I don't know … where it came from. Who it came from. He had drunk so much wine that night that he wasn't thinking. He had been angry with Owen, ranting and… he poured it all in the bottle. Poured a cup. He meant to serve it to his brother. Only…"

Dhraegon says, "Only he was drunk and in a dark mood." The Prince studies her, all compassion, "If you had tried to stop him, would he have been rough with you?"

"My lady," Camillo says softly, looking to the stones of the floor. "I knew your answer then. I never thought less of you. And I don't care why it was, either. I'll do anything to keep you from harm, you ought to know."

Marsei looks from Camillo back to Dhraegon gives another tiny shake of her head, tense with shame even though neither of them rain such a sentiment down upon her. "I did try to stop him," she says. "If he had— " She clenches down. "If he had made it to morning, he would have come to his senses, as he always did, and he would have thanked me for my hand of reason. I was talking him out of it — when…" Her mouth remains open for a moment, her gaze in the past, unreceptive to Dhraegon's compassion when it comes to this. "He reached for his own cup. But it … in his drunken blindness, it was the wrong one. It was more poison than wine. I could have taken it, I could have stopped him so easily and yet all I did was … stand there, thinking…" She pauses, pained. "I never wanted him to die, but I wanted him to disappear. Is that not the same thing?" she says, argumentative where there is no argument because all they seem do is accept whatever she's done. She can't.

Dhraegon delicately kisses the top of her head, "You wanted out. I do not blame you for wanting him gone and to be home and safe, Love, for all you've blamed yourself. I had thought you poisoned him with your own hand when I started courting you, though I thought different when I knew you better. I am… not the best judge of right and wrong in these matters."

He keeps talking, keeps trying to paint her in a good light in contrast of truer dark, but Marsei's guilt might as well plug her ears to it.

"… I think… you hesitation is understandable, given what you'd been through, though I know you hold yourself to the highest standard of anyone I know, including the Maiden Knight," Dhraegon continues. "You are too good and kind for it not to haunt you, but Love, I think he was doomed one way or the other. A man does not toy with his death that way drunk or not unless he is already in love with it, even if he pretends not to be. He would have found his death one way or another soon enough." The Prince closes his eyes, "I should know. I was… headed that way when I met you. I am glad I changed my mind. I do not think he would have though, not from what you have told me." He opens his eyes again and says with absolute conviction, "You can not save people from themselves, only delay them. Likely he did not think clearly, 'I am going to drink poison,' but his mood was dark and had been a long time and he very likely didn't care whether he took the faster way in the one cup or the slower way in the other."

Camillo does not seem shocked by any of this talk. Instead he moves toward the door. "I'm going to open the door and go out," he warns softly. "I will return tonight."

Marsei seems more shaken than comforted in any regard. Compassion finds its way back to into her gaze when Dhraegon speaks personally; she reaches out to clasp hands tightly. "I knew him so well," she says; even now, she must argue for her part in what she's done. "He did not have it in him. He did not truly wish his brother's death as he planned, let alone his own. I suspect that is why Jana does not believe it, deep down. I … I appreciate you saying so, Dhraegon, but what is it you think of me? That that he was the villain, and I the victim? He was senseless when he drank, but not cruel. He was no Jurian, and I was not even Aelia at the window's edge. If I was protecting myself it was only out of … of selfishness." She looks away, turning her slender neck absolutely as far as it can turn. "Leire offered me absolution, and I … oh, I was so eager to take it. To believe it was all in the past. But look! It follows me still. It must be evidence of my sins."

Dhraegon twists so he might look in his wife's eyes, "I do not think he was a villain. I DO think that a man who drinks the way he drank is looking for numbness and eventually the quiet of death. A man drinks like that because the things inside him that are tearing him apart are to loud to be silenced any other way. He may not have intended to drink poison that night, but he was drinking slow poison every night to numb a pain even your gentle hands couldn't touch. This is a thing I know intimately, Love. I think he was in pain, the way a horse with a broken leg or a mad dog is in pain. Death can be a kindness."

She wants to believe it. She looks so intently at Dhraegon, trying desperately to grasp on to each word; the moment she loses purchase can be seen easily in her eyes, hope followed by despair at breakneck speeds. "If he was in pain, then that was my fault too," she reasons. She draws her knees up even closer to her chest and hugs them, making herself smaller, were it not for the halo of her skirt around her. "What are we going to do?"

Dhraegon is adamant, "No, Love. People in that kind of pain can't be saved. They can only save themselves one way or another. I changed my mind and let Flox bathe and dress me and I went to the dinner where we met and spoke of cookies and pillow forts. You give me a reason to keep trying to… get better, but nothing could have moved me if my intent had stayed fixed. He was in that kind of pain before you met him. It is not your fault. How could it be? You didn't raise him or grow up with him. You weren't there when whatever it was started to go wrong. You did try, Love. You said yourself you'd try to talk him out of these ideas and moods. He'd set them aside for a little while, but they'd return. You slowed him on his path often, but you couldn't have forever and you were exhausting yourself trying. Wishing once it was over does not make you the sort of monster I am, and somehow, you manage to care about me. Can you not give yourself some of the compassion you give me every day of our lives together? Can you not be as kind to yourself as you are to others?" He sighs, "Do we know how he got the poison?"

Dhraegon goes on making plans, and Marsei closes her eyes.

"It would be best if we can show lord Owen and Mathias exactly who sold him the poison that they might hear from their own lips," Dhraegon says and puts his arms around his wife, "I think we can try reason to get Lady Jana and Matthias on our side. I think you or we both should have Lady Jana to tea and simply talk to her. Confide the truth that he showed you the poison and you were trying to talk him out of using it, but that he was very drunk and drank it by accident before you could get him to pour it in the privy, that you were trying to protect his memory and panicked about the bottle. Confess of your own free will except for the bit where you might have stopped him if you hadn't frozen. Tell her how guilty you feel for not stopping him killing himself. Show her your tears and your very real distress. I believe she wants to believe you and just needs the excuse. Give her the excuse by showing her most of the truth. That last bit is between you and your gods, but I think the Mother must forgive you if she exists, for how coul she not love you as I do."

Some small part of her seems to calm down; or, perhaps, she simply accepts the situation as it is, though one thing is clear: Marsei cannot grant herself the same compassion she gives Dhraegon. She tries to smile, in very real gratitude, but the expression is more of a wince than a smile; still, thankful warmth shines, however fleetingly, in her teary eyes. "I could never quite fathom where he would have gotten it. He'd never had such a thing before, as far as I know. Where does one purchase poison?" She looks expectantly at Dhraegon, who clearly must have the answer.

Dhraegon says, "… For certain things one deals with sea fairers, as one can not get certain things here. I doubt he could have made it himself. You'd have likely smelled it or noticed it … That means someone sold… What were his habits? Did he frequent a tavern or the like? Somewhere an unscrupulous person might have heard him complaining and tempted him? Would he have sought out a midwife or the like? You knew him, I did not." He takes her hand, "I think if you can talk Lady Jana around, and enlist Lord Matthias, I think young Jesper will be easy to convince there was a misunderstanding somewhere. Camillo will ateempt to undermine the stableboy gently. We will look for evidence I can use to convince Lord Matthias and Owen if things get that far. I will talk things over with Camillo and see what we can do to make Haemon distrust Roberd. When we are in public, we will share plates and cups. I want to be seen taking food and drink directly from your hands to underline my support of you." Dhraegon takes a deep breath, "This will be difficult, but you have helped me think of things we might try. I know… none of this is easy to speak of and it hurts you to even think of it, but the telling was necessary. Knowing the truth means I am less likely to step wrong through ignorance and it means we four can work together to solve this. You are loved and you have allies who are clever and not willing to give you up to the likes of that rude man who wishes you such ill. Would you like to sleep here tonight, or would you rather be alone?"

It's a great deal for Marsei to think about, but now Dhraegon's words give her something to focus on. Her tears have slowed, even if her inner turmoil has not. She nods slowly, agreeing with the plans as they're unfolded. "There is not much … in the way of diversions around Cider Hall, certainly not taverns or apothecaries. But Jarvas would sometimes visit the town of Ashford, not terribly far away … and occasionally merchants would come down from the Roseroad, or through the Mander," she says. "I will try with Jana." She's somber, and goes on uncomfortably, "She was right about the rest." But she neither wants to dwell on or explain; she gets to her feet and wraps her arms about Dhraegon. "I should… like to be alone, I think. But I meant to say…" she hugs tighter, quieting. "I am glad you got better."

Dhraegon holds her close, "I am very glad too. I am happier with you than I ever imagined I could be." He kisses the top of her head, "We will survive this, Love."

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